A California bishop has written a letter instructing clergy and religious in the diocese to be compassionate and inclusive when it comes to pastoral care. a direct repudiation of last month’s alienating directives from an Illinois bishop.
Bishop Patrick McGrath of San Jose sent the letter on June 29, 2017. While it doesn’t specifically mention Springfield, Illinois Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s decree that bars people in same-gender marriages from participation in certain forms of pastoral care, sacramental life, and leadership, from the language of the text, it seems this recent development was on McGrath’s mind . According to the blog Proper Nomenclature, McGrath wrote:
“Recent news reports of policies and practices related to members of the LGBT community in other dioceses can be confusing.
“I take this opportunity to assure you that the pastoral response in the Diocese of San Jose remains just that: compassionate and pastoral. We will not refuse sacraments or Christian Burial to anyone who requests them in good faith.
“Finally, let us remember and be guided by the words of Pope Francis: ‘The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.'”
Paprocki’s decree drew strong reactions from Catholics, especially his instruction that pastoral ministers deny funerals to Catholics in same-gender marriages. You can read a report on his decree here, along with reactions here and here. While other bishops (notably Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput and Newark’s former Archbishop John Myers) barred married gay and lesbian people from communion and liturgical roles, only Paprocki went so far as to forbid funerals for them.
This letter is not Bishop McGrath’s first step to be more welcoming of LGBT people. Last year, after the massacre at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, he was among the handful of bishops who explicitly mentioned the victims’ sexual and/or gender identities in a statement.
The Diocese of San Jose also hosts the Catholic LGBT Ministry Council, which sponsors monthly “All Are Welcome” Masses at parishes and provides pastoral ministers with welcoming resources.
“Does this mean the church now can bury only saints? Should there be any doubt, it sounds as if you should get your requests for forgiveness in well before your last breath. . .Nobody dies sinless.”
Thankfully, Bishop McGrath has recognized that every person is welcome to pastoral care. His instruction to welcome everyone to the sacraments who “requests them in good faith” echoes Jesus’ invitation in the Gospel, and it mirrors a more merciful tone in the church sought by Pope Francis.
But beyond that, his letter is significant because, even if indirectly, he is publicly challenging a fellow bishop. This development is a sign of health in a church where there is too often silence from bishops when their peers act inappropriately. More U.S. bishops should follow McGrath’s example by issuing guidelines of welcome and inclusion.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 2, 2017